Three small detonations.

*Done Deeds Dept: So, what was missing from The All New Atom #2? Not the entertainment - it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite new DC books, even though some of the collateral bits of style (like this issue’s whole ‘scientific method’ structural conceit) don’t quite work. But one particular credit is conspicuously absent: Grant Morrison’s ‘Idea and Concepts’ mention. This could suggest several things, including a simple production error, though my gut tells me that either Morrison only secured a deal to have his name on the preview and first issue (or only wanted so much - I don’t know) or DC themselves decided to plaster Morrison’s name on the early material as a means of promotion (which means they probably should have mentioned him a bit more in the solicitations and pre-release hype). As such, the removal of Morrison’s name serves to shine a stronger light on actual writer Gail Simone, which is probably for the best as the series continues on.

*I first became aware of Boom! Studios through founder Ross Richie’s years-ago association with Atomeka; some of Boom!’s earliest books, like Hero Squared and the first half of the Oni pick-up Jenny Finn bore the Atomeka logo with Boom! itself relegated to the ‘in association with’ position. But in 2005 the studio struck out on its own as a solo publisher, quickly building up a fairly sizable line of specials, miniseries, ongoings, and even the occasional deluxe project (I can’t wait to finally see the long-delayed Yoshitaka Amano’s Hero in a proper US book release). Indeed, just the other week they had three releases. To wit:

A Trio of Boom! Studios Comics

The Black Plague Special #1: Here is the Boom! book I’d probably been looking forward to the most, coming from a writer who’s been putting out a number of titles I’ve been enjoying recently, Joe Casey. Unfortunately, this one-shot (which is basically a glorified issue #0 for an upcoming miniseries - there’s nothing in the way of a self-contained story, only an illustration of the premise) is largely rote, uninspired costumed superperson material. The plot sees a mysterious villain from years ago apparently resurfacing in the present day to play various sides of an underworld conflict against one another, though the reality of the situation is less interesting than one might have hoped even from that simple setup. Familiar conflicts are duly suggested and a vague sense of amorality kind of drifts around the proceedings, though nothing particularly transgressive ever threatens to occur.

The art, by Julia Bax, fits the story to the extent that a fairly bland costumed adventure plot can coexist with decent, nondescript costumed adventure visuals without much of a fuss being kicked up in the reader’s head. The simple character designs and minimal, texture-heavy environments (color by Matt Webb) are serviceable enough, getting the visual storytelling basics correct, though only the various costumes really jumped out at me as interesting, with some nice hooded jumpsuits for one faction of the villains and a cooly simple look for the title character (though I dig him more with the possible accidental palette seen on the cover rather than the unexplained red look he sports in the book itself).

Actually, it’s the accouterments in general that are the best part of the book. I like the notion of teams of villainous goons operating from different ‘traditions’ (jumpsuited sci-fi minions vs. Western mob enforcers vs. Asian gang toughs) and coming into conflict, even as the nature of a superheroic world causes some mixing of genres, and I hope more of this material is examined in the miniseries itself. What’s left beside that is yet more quandaries about good and evil and the grey areas between, and the ambition of those in that nebulous space to reshape the world. A bigger picture, but not an absorbing one so far.

Jeremiah Harm #4: This on the other hand, is exactly as familiar in its own individual use of genre as The Black Plague, but manages to succeed as entertainment due to the deft hands of the creative team. Keith Giffen & Alan Grant provide the story, concerning a badass space antihero being freed from capture to track down an even worse cadre of interstellar criminals who've touched down on Earth with evil plans in mind. Puny humans get involved too, but if this issue (the penultimate chapter of the story) is any indication we're looking at mostly the gory asskickings of colorful villains via the boot of a tough-talking brute.

And for what it is, it's quite decent, at least for this issue. The trick is that it's always active, always moving, a steady stream of cheesy space slang and rough declarations spewing from the title character's mouth as he clashes with a foe that's literally a bag of gas - the (anti)hero's inevitable success arrives in a fittingly funny manner after much kicking and crashing. In between bouts of hitting, the plot inches forward and supporting characters interact amusingly. This issue sees the arrival of a new artist, one Rafael Albuquerque, and while I couldn't say how he measures up to prior artist Rael Lyra, I'll note that the action always flows and the characters retain an inky charm, facial curls reminiscent of Paul Pope sometimes creeping in.

A nice action book, a perfect example of a dead-basic concept enlivened through sheer straightforward writing craftsmanship. It will neither attract nor hold the attention of those who'd normally turn away at the sound of its solicitation text, but if this is the kind of thing you might be interested in, it's good enough here.

Second Wave #5: And some Boom! titles move farther away from spandex exploits and high-action antics, though in this case the results aren’t all that encouraging. Actually, the most interesting thing about this ongoing series can be glimpsed on Boom!’s official page for the book - yes, this is a tie-in series to the venerable War of the Worlds property, but scanning one’s eyes down the covers in order of release reveals an unmistakable gradual downplaying of the series’ alternate media connections. Not that any such maneuvering changes the premise: humanity is still under attack from those nasty aliens, and the titular sophomore intergalactic offensive is no longer susceptible to things like human sickness. As it sometimes goes in stories of this type, the real focus (at least for this issue, which is in the middle of a storyline) is on how various people react to the outside danger threatening them.

But what writer Michael Alan Nelson provides isn't as much the interactions of people as a group of characters confronting simple clichés. The search for insulin for a young girl leads various persons into the clutches of a vile, racist, authoritarian rural lawman and his posse of idiotic underlings who guffaw their way through their new roles as collective judge, jury, and executioner in the wake of the alien invasion. Ah, the black heart of backward small towns is revealed! These wicked men cannot wait to cast off the chains of due process and just cutting off the heads of alleged thieves and druggies with axes; there's even a quick bit on the ethics of performing mercy killings on terminal patients, though the food for thought would have been digested easier had the sides of the issue not been lopsided to the point of one party pulling off clever spy moves and the other suggesting the use of aloe on third degree burns. "So let me introduce you to the new America," sneers an axe-brandishing Sheriff Evil before a resolution literally drops out of the sky.

It's not a satisfying issue; I understand the intent behind playing down the actual alien presence in a sci-fi book of this sort, but the human interaction and the social comment can't be this simplistic if the work is to succeed. I readily admit that prior issues might have shed some extra light on these characters - there is some decent personality work done with a sly non-doctor, and I can imagine some interesting work being done elsewhere with a curious young boy, and some of the quieter sequences of characters just standing around and shooting the breeze about the world situation have an easygoing flow. The art (by 'Chee') is the strongest of this batch of books, pages of larger-than-life destruction balanced with some strong, realist character drafting. I do believe the ability to produce a good comic is here, but it's not coming together in this particular issue. Here's hoping for the future.